Manner #8: Passing Food

Manner #8: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Passing Food Around the Table

Attention Getter: I wrote arrows on post-it notes. I put them on the kids’ plates pointing to the right. When the kids came to dinner they began whispering to each other, “Why do we have arrows on our plates?” “Dad! What is going on?” “Maybe mom wants us to twist things around?” “Maybe mom…” (The buzz around the table before dinner was music to a teaching mom’s ears.)

When we sat down, I asked the kids which way the arrows were pointing (now that is a difficult question for kids’ my age, but they got it right.) Then I stated the arrows were there to show them which way to pass the food-to the right- and tonight we were going to learn about passing food. (Remember it is important to state the objective. It’s Teaching 101).

Manner: 1. Food is passed to the right initially- counterclockwise. However, the person starting the food may ask the person to her left if he would like some before passing it on to the right.
2. Hold the serving dish for the person next to you while she serves herself (this is a lesson in giving and receiving- another blog; another day) or set it down on the table if necessary.
3. Keep the food moving. Do not be that person at the table that is a food dam. Everything stops at your plate. (We know who you are; wish you knew.)
4. If you need a food item to be passed to you (after the initial pass), find who is closest to it, address the person BY NAME and then ask him to pass the food item. You may pass it the shortest route. You don’t have to go right all the way around the table.
5. Always pass the pepper and salt together. Even if the person only asked for the salt- send the pepper too. After all, they are married and they stick together. (Yes, we really did dress up our salt-n-pepper shakers. And later I found my 4 year old singing “Hear Comes the Bride” as she moved the salt closer to the pepper.)

Mr. and Mrs.

Why: The why on #1 is important to explain to those stubborn leftys. When you pass to the right, it is easier for the person receiving the food to serve himself because his dominant hand (if right handed) is unobstructed or at a better angle to serve himself. If you pass to the left, you may constrict the right hand or the serving dish would be too close and it would be difficult to serve. Try it and see what I am talking about.

#4: When you say a person’s name to pass; it gets her attention. Otherwise you are just calling a request out to a table full of preoccupied people and no one is listening nor are they aware of what food is in front of them.

These “rules” just help the table run smoother (the bigger the family, the more these manners matter.) And in the end everyone enjoys dinner more, and there is less time spent trying to get food on your plate and more time conversing with family.

Practice: I let the kids pretend before dinner while I was making last minute preparations. I gave them a serving bowl and spoon (without any food in it) and they practiced passing and serving themselves food. This was safer than real, hot, heavy dishes for my kids (right now mom and dad still do a lot of the passing and serving.)

Thoughts: I have learned much about myself and my family from this manner. I’ve learned that we are a stubborn and prideful folk. We like to teach, but we don’t always like to be taught.

See, we have passed to the left all of our lives and up until last week we even passed to the left at our monthly Sunday dinner. When I told my family that I learned through my readings that it is proper etiquette to pass to the right, I was surprised by their reaction. “Wow! Thanks, Tiffany. We just learned something new” would have been a nice response. Instead it was, “Who says?” “Are you going to make us do that now?” I think I even got called a few names. (To be honest, I don’t really care which way you pass it as long as we are all going the same direction, but because I am stubborn too, I didn’t let it go. I explained WHY you pass to the right, then called them names back.) My dad, being a reasonable man, learned from the explanation and opted to go to the right–at that dinner. We will see how next month’s Sunday dinner goes.

And since likes attract, I married a stubborn man too. His family passed to the left growing up as well. The other night, in the most delicate way he could muster, he said something like, “Now Tiffany, I am not saying you are wrong, but have you checked multiple sources on this pass to the right thing? Everyone I know passes to the left- how can we all be wrong? (My kids have no prayer of being humble).

So for all you left passers out there, I did check multiple sources.  Emily Post even agrees with me. (Make sure to read the first line.)

4 thoughts on “Manner #8: Passing Food”

  1. My guess is that many people pass to the left because that is clock-wise. However, your reasons for passing to the right make a lot of sense. Unfortunately for me, I have two lefties at my house, including my husband. If you had a majority of left handed people, would it be more appropriate to pass left? Just curious. =)

    1. Heather, I am not Emily Post 🙂 but I think as long as everyone is passing the same direction and everyone knows the expectation for your table you can pass any direction you like. If to the left works better for your family, then go for it. I would just make sure my children knew of the “to the right” rule for social gatherings outside of the home. Thanks for your comment.

  2. We always passed to the left. Both parents were of Swedish descent and after researching this, I found that to be the correct direction in Sweden.
    My logic: it is easier and safer to receive a bowl or platter with the dominant/stronger hand, which is usually the right hand. If necessary, transferring the food to the left hand to serve yourself, is not inconvenient.


    Emily Post actually says either is correct, just so the food all goes the same direction on the initial pass.


    1. Thanks for your comment, M.J. There are differences between how Europeans and Americans eat and this topic looks like it might be another one. Like I said in my post, I don’t really care which way you pass food, as long as everyone is going in the same directions. However,the link you shared says in the very first line: “Technically, food is passed around the table in a counterclockwise direction, or to the right.” That is why I went with passing to the right in my post when I taught my children. You are welcome to pass whichever direction works best for your family.

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